Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:27 PM EDT
Former NHL stars are among the list of likely candidates.
Jul 30, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Has Buffalo set itself up for an era of long playoff runs?
Jul 30, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT
The deal is reportedly worth $5.6 million.
Jul 30, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT
At one point he was listed as the top European skater in the 2015 draft.
Jul 30, 2015, 5:52 PM EDT
The Flyers also have forwards Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier locked up.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT
The 37-year-old still wants to continue his career.
Jul 30, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Along with Yao Ming.
Jul 30, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
“Nobody benefits from a short-term deal like this, in particular, our hockey department.”
Jul 30, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Vancouver wasting little time locking up the target of Tuesday’s trade.
Jul 30, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Boston could use some depth on its back end.
Jul 30, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Hearing is scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. ET.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT
Alleged incident involved a female victim.
Jul 30, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
As opposed to just his skill.
Jul 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The former general manager “wasn’t prepared to make the changes that needed to be made.”
Jul 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Thursday’s collection of links.
Jul 29, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT
He played in 502 games, primarily with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Jul 29, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT
The 24-year-old gives agreed to an entry-level deal.
Jul 29, 2015, 7:49 PM EDT
Will he live up to his next contract?
Jul 29, 2015, 6:27 PM EDT
“It really wasn’t about Dainius himself.”
Jul 29, 2015, 4:57 PM EDT
His collection can be had for $5.7 million.
- Voracek turns monster season into massive eight-year deal 45
- Report: Canucks, Sutter closing in on five-year deal, north of $20M 24
- Voynov serving sentence at jail that once advertised it had flat screen TVs 45
- Report: Bernier and Leafs more than $2 million apart ahead of Friday’s arbitration hearing 11
- Flyers re-sign Couturier: six years, $26 million 40
- Benning calls Sutter a ‘foundation piece’ for Canucks 24
- Here’s a chart that shows which teams have been good/bad at drafting 40
- Penguins sign Fehr to three-year, $6 million contract 22
- Trade: Penguins send Sutter to Canucks for Bonino, Clendening 54
- NBC Sports to broadcast 105 NHL games in 2015-16 58
- Bettman says NHL would have to ‘consider’ putting Quebec City in the Western Conference (70)
- Rangers sign Stepan — six years, $39 million (62)
- NBC Sports to broadcast 105 NHL games in 2015-16 (58)
- Trade: Penguins send Sutter to Canucks for Bonino, Clendening (54)
- Voynov serving sentence at jail that once advertised it had flat screen TVs (45)